– By Sam Nichols
Before the weekend set against No. 5 Arkansas, Georgia baseball held a record of 4-11 in conference play. Needless to say, the team needed a big weekend to have hopes of making it to the postseason.
Spoiler alert: it was a huge weekend for the Bulldogs.
The series began on Thursday night with a 6-5 Georgia victory with freshman right-hander Kolten Smith taking the mound against the Razorbacks. Arkansas was one of four SEC teams ranked in the top five in the country, boasting a 30-7 overall record and 11-4 record in conference play.
Smith went four innings in his second start against an SEC opponent, giving up three hits and two earned runs. Luke Wagner relieved Smith and got Georgia through the seventh inning while allowing four hits and one earned run.
Junior catcher Fernando Gonzalez led the charge offensively with a three-run homerun in the bottom of the third inning. Georgia would score five of their six runs in the bottom of the third.
Junior catcher Fernando Gonzalez approaching home after sending a ball out of the park on Thursday. (Kari Hodges/UGAAA)
“It was great, you know, to get a couple runs for the team. My job as a catcher is to make sure I’m there defensively. If I can help with the bat, then I’ll do it,” Gonzalez said.
Coach Scott Stricklin was proud of the game plan that was executed and the production of the offense. To him, it was no surprise that the Bulldogs walked away victorious.
“It proves that we’re a good team. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell these guys. We’re a good team, but you’ve got to believe it, and if you believe it then it starts happening. We were a little bit on our heels when the SEC season started, but when you start finishing games and winning them, you start to build confidence and it just snowballs,” Stricklin said.
Game two of the series took place on Friday evening. Redshirt junior Charlie Goldstein got the call to start the game and shut down the Razorback offense.
Goldstein pitched six innings while giving up three hits and no runs. A crew of three relievers followed Goldstein, going one inning each.
Sophomore Cole Wagner and graduate transfer Mason LaPlante fueled the Bulldogs offense, going 4-4 and 3-4, respectively. The pair of hitters each knocked in a pair of RBI to clinch the series win by a score of 7-3.
In front of a sold out crowd at Foley Field, Georgia was searching for its first SEC series sweep of the year on Saturday.
The Bulldogs had a flair for the dramatics against another top-five team in last weekend’s series against Florida. Georgia found out that there was still some drama left in the tank.
Junior Liam Sullivan was called on to start game three. He started the game well before giving up three runs in the fifth inning and one in the seventh. He exited the game after pitching 6+ innings and striking out eight batters.
Arkansas carried an 8-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth with LaPlante leading off the inning. The bases quickly became full of Bulldogs with no outs recorded. Graduate Connor Tate stepped up to the plate. Tate launched a grand slam over the left field wall to tie the game, 8-8.
Coach Stricklin spoke of the veteran left fielder remaining calm under pressure in the ninth inning at bat.
“When you’ve got guys who have been there and done it, the heart rate slows down a little bit, you don’t panic, you take deep breaths. You look at Connor Tate, there was no panic to him. No panic at all,” Stricklin said.
Junior Parks Harber followed Tate in the lineup, before the crowd had time to catch their breath from the game-tying grand slam, the next pitch was thrown.
Harber swung at the first pitch, a fastball close to letter-high. The ball was sent high in the air, deep to center field. The flag beyond the outfield wall was blowing straight out. The Arkansas center fielder drifted further and further back, until he could drift no more.
The ball bounced off of the batter’s eye in dead center. The crowd erupted and the team busted out of the dugout and onto the field to greet Harber after he trotted around the bases. Game over.
A five-run ninth inning and walk-off home run clinches the series sweep of #5 Arkansas.
Junior Parks Harber celebrating the walk-off homer to sweep Arkansas on Saturday. (Kari Hodges/UGAAA)
“I don’t remember it. I blacked out. That’s just awesome for our team. Huge momentum builder. It’s just the start,” Harber said.
Georgia will play host to in-state foe Georgia State on Tuesday. After the midweek game, the Bulldogs will head to Oxford to play their next SEC series against Ole Miss.